Could the Houston Rockets have gotten more for James Harden?

James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
James Harden #13 of the Brooklyn Nets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets: Could the franchise have gotten more for James Harden?

Now, the crux of the discussion, could the Houston Rockets have gotten a better deal for James Harden? The real answer is yes and also no. First, let’s look at how the Rockets could have done better.

How the Rockets failed

If it is to be believed that the Philadelphia 76ers were willing to offer Ben Simmons for James Harden then the Rockets missed a golden opportunity to land a young franchise player under contract for multiple seasons. Simmons is a divisive player but at his best, he is a dominant defensive player and a world-class playmaker.

Does his jump shot leave something to be desired? Yes, but it can’t be overlooked that he is elite at two crucial components of the game. Simmons has also improved his free throw shooting every season, which bodes well that he could one day develop a pseudo reliable jumper.

Now, the Rockets, if they were to take the Sixers offer would have certainly received less draft pick compensation. The draft haul is the area where the Rockets could not have done any better, but it doesn’t come without its risks.

Where the Rockets did well

The Rockets essentially own all of the Nets first-round picks from now until 2027. However, pick swaps are only valuable if your team is better than the other team, which means the pick swaps for 2021 and 2023 are almost assuredly to not be conveyed.

The James Harden trade will come down to how good the Brooklyn Nets are from 2024 to 2027. James Harden is 31-years-old and Kevin Durant is 32-years-old, by the time the 2023-24 season comes along they’ll be 34 and 35.

It is entirely possible that neither of them are with the team as they both have player options following the 2021-22 season, but if they sign extensions with the Nets the two could be in Brooklyn through the 2026-27 season.

How the pair ages will determine the fate of the Rockets’ future. If they’re productive into their late 30’s, like John Stockton and Karl Malone, then the Rockets could be left with pick swaps that are worthless.

However, if the two age more normally there is a chance that the Nets are in the lottery by the time the 2025-26 season rolls around and possibly even before that. The chances that the Rockets receive lottery picks from this trade are not certain but there is a chance that the last three picks and swaps from 2025 to 2027 could be incredibly valuable.

The Rockets could have done better in their trade for James Harden and it all hinges on the state of the Nets a half-decade from now. This trade will determine the Rockets’ future, which is scary because it won’t start bearing fruit for another five seasons.

The final verdict

The James Harden trade had its merits but in the end, the Rockets could have and should have, done better. The one area not touched upon in length was likely the deciding factor in the trade, the Rockets saved some money.

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Viewed from a financial perspective the James Harden trade was a rousing success. If the Rockets use their newfound cap space to build a winner then the trade can be a success, but if they pocket the money and take their time then the franchise will be swamped in mediocrity, at best, for the foreseeable future.